Tori parked her Mini behind a Scottsdale squad car and hopped out. She gave a nod to one of the uniforms standing at the perimeter of the scene, keeping the crowd at bay. Several squad cars with lights flashing marked the area of the grocery store parking lot where the action was taking place.
As she approached the police van near the group of black-and-whites, the acrid scent of drying blood wafted to her. Quickly, she scanned the scene, seeing patches of blood on the pavement and a lump of bloody material lying near the entrance to the store. Never far from her thoughts, she wondered if Dante had arrived yet, and she glanced around again, this time to suss out something, someone, entirely different. Her stomach bottomed with disappointment when she didn’t see him. Maybe because there wasn’t a human fatality he wouldn’t be dispatched. It’s not like he covered all the cases. There were several members of the Special Case squad that could be sent to work an active crime scene, but the extent of their involvement, if at all, depended on whether humans were embroiled in the action. If Dante had too much on his plate, another detective would be sent here. At that thought, her disappointment grew.
She blew out a breath and put her attention on the police van. A man sat in the back, huddled in a blanket, his hands clutching the edges in front of him to cover his nudity. Since he was naked, she had to assume he’d tangled with the vampire in his werewolf form. She grimaced. That was easier to picture than him just cavorting around in the buff. “Well, there’s the werewolf,” she murmured to herself. “Where’s the vampire?”
Glancing around, she spotted him off to one side, a couple of uniformed officers standing beside him. Their hands rested on the butts of their weapons; their eyes shifted from one another to the vampire. Tori made a mental note to keep the van between her and them in case those itchy trigger fingers weren’t held in check. The vampire liaison, Aldis Knox, was already there, taking the vamp’s statement. She lifted a hand in greeting and stopped next to another uniformed officer. “What’s the status of the human?” she asked the young cop.
“EMTs took him over to County.”
If he was taken to the hospital, it meant he’d probably gotten in the way of somebody’s teeth. “Was he bitten?” she asked.
“Looks like.” The officer gave a quick shrug. “They weren’t sure which of the EDs did it, so they’ll keep him in the secure wing until they know whether or not he’s going to turn.”
“We prefer to be called preternaturals. Or prets if it’s easier.” Tori held his gaze.
A slight flush darkened his cheeks. “Sorry?”
She couldn’t tell if his confusion was genuine or put on. “You called them”—she gestured toward the werewolf and the vampire with a swoop of one arm—“EDs. Extra-dimensionals. Most of us prefer to be called preternaturals,” she repeated, just in case he was missing her point.
“Oh.” He stared at her for a few seconds, then offered a muttered apology. “I didn’t know.”
“No problem,” she responded easily. “Now you do.” She glanced around the scene again, unable to keep from searching for Dante. She didn’t see tall and sexy anywhere. “Has Detective MacMillan arrived yet?”
She gave a brief nod and, as she started to move off, the officer said, “Ah, ma’am?”
Tori stopped and looked back at him.
“How does that work, exactly? Turning someone, I mean.” He gave a sheepish smile. “They explained it to us in the academy, but I didn’t really understand it.”
She was glad to educate him, figuring the more informed humans were the less they might let their imaginations overtake them. “The pret releases a little bit of their essence—a piece of their soul, if you will—into the victim’s blood. For a vampire, the timing is critical. It has to happen right before the person dies.” She remembered the first time she’d seen someone “come back” after being bitten by a vampire. The poor thing hadn’t been expecting it, and it had taken all of Knox’s considerable strength to hold the woman down while he explained what had happened. Only the sound of Tori’s voice had finally calmed the new vampire enough so that she could actually hear what Knox was telling her. Tori looked at the officer. “A shapeshifter can do it at any point during the attack. And the victim doesn’t necessarily die. But at the next full moon they will transform.”
“Okay.” He glanced over his shoulder at the vampire. He seemed much more nervous of the vamp than the shapeshifter.
Tori decided to disabuse him of any illusions he might have that werewolves weren’t a threat. He’d live longer if he learned this lesson now instead of at the end of being maimed by teeth and claws. She leaned in and let the wolf come to life in her eyes, just a little. “We’re all just as dangerous, officer.”
His face paled and he jerked back a couple of steps. “Right. Yeah.”
She’d meant to get her point across, not scare the crap out of him. She sighed and held up a hand. “Look, I’m sorry. That was a little heavy-handed.” She put some space between them and heard his breathing even out. “Just…don’t underestimate any pret, okay? You’ll live a lot longer,” she added in a dry tone.
“Right.” He swallowed and then dipped his chin. “Thanks.”
Tori nodded and walked over to the werewolf in the blanket, unzipping her portfolio as she went. She drew a breath and frowned as she stopped at the back of the van. “Barry,” she greeted the werewolf in a calm voice. She’d discovered over the years that having such a melodious tone was at odds with her being a wolf, and it kept people off guard long enough for her to worm out more information than she might otherwise ordinarily get. She drew out her pen and jotted down the date and location on the incident report form.
“Ms. Joseph.” He briefly met her gaze and then ducked his head. She hadn’t thought it possible but his shoulders hunched even more. A definite odor of tequila and rum poured off him, though it lessened with each passing second. The smoky mixture of chagrin and irritation only grew.
“You want to tell me what happened here?” she asked.
“Not really.” At her sharp look, he cowered as if expecting a blow. When one didn’t come, he lifted his head slightly and looked up at her. Well, looked in her general direction, because he didn’t make eye contact.
“Barry,” she said. “I’m not part of your pack.” She wasn’t part of anyone’s pack, not really, unless you counted the other werewolf liaisons in the region. “I’m not going to hold you to your Omega status, okay?” It was obvious to her from his subservient demeanor that he was the lowest ranking member of his pack, one that treated him roughly, if his cowering was anything to go by.
His eyes darted to hers but he didn’t say anything.
“Now, tell me what happened.”
“He started it.” His expression turning mutinous, Barry pointed at the vampire. “He called me a mutt.” His words came out a little slurred, but she knew any intoxication he currently suffered would soon dissipate. The incredible metabolism of a werewolf made it impossible to maintain a drunken stupor for long.
She knew that from firsthand experience.
“And calling you a mutt started the fight?” She made a few notes.
“Well, no.” He shifted and pulled the blanket around him tighter. “He said my mother was a real bitch.” His mouth tightened. “I loved my mother.”
“I’m sure you did.” Tori held her pen at the ready. “So that’s what started the fight? Him insulting your mom?”
“No.” Barry straightened. “He said my Wilma was a shitmobile. A shitmobile!”
That seemed a strange insult to deliver to a wife or girlfriend. “I take it Wilma is your…”
“She’s a 1965 Mustang convertible.” He gave a low growl. “Shitmobile.” His face darkened. His gaze on the vamp, he started to get up.
“Barry, sit down. Now.” Shooting him a look but not changing the calm tenor of her voice, Tori jotted a few more notes on the incident report. Once Barry had sunk back down onto the seat, she looked at him. “So you let this guy insult you, insult your mom, but when he dissed your car, that’s when you let him have it?” She lifted her eyebrows. It made no sense to her, but then she didn’t have testicles.
“Wilma can’t stand up for herself. He had no business insulting her. I had to make him pay for it.” He sent a glare the vampire’s way.
Tori glanced over her shoulder to see the vampire completely ignore Barry, though she could tell by the smirk on his face he was well aware the werewolf was glowering at him. The vamp said something and then shook Knox’s hand before he walked off.
“They’re just letting him leave?” Barry jumped down out of the van, leaving the blanket behind. “What the hell!”
Shocked gasps and then titters from the crowd drifted to Tori. “Oh, for the love of…Barry!” she barked, dropping her calm voice. Barry flashing his junk was not going to garner any points with the locals. “Get your ass back in the van. And cover it up, for crying out loud.” When he started past her, she grabbed his arm and whirled him around with a snarl. She held his gaze, the wolf clawing to get out. She was determined to maintain her professionalism, despite the fact that her inner wolf wanted to let loose with teeth and claws. It always wanted to rumble. “You do not want to start something with me. Do you?”
Her voice was no longer the soothing tones she’d been using. It was low with the growl of the wolf.